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Nicole Lafond

Nicole Lafond is a news writer for TPM based in New York City. She is also currently earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and previously worked as an education reporter at The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Lafond.

Articles by Nichole

Attorney General Jeff Sessions preached the administration’s message on merit-based immigration on Fox News Tuesday night, claiming “a good nation” doesn’t admit “illiterate” immigrants.

“What good does it do to bring in somebody who is illiterate in their own country, has no skills and is going to struggle in our country and not be successful? That is not what a good nation should do, and we need to get away from it,” Sessions said, speaking on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

Sessions criticized Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for reportedly reciting during a meeting Emma Lazarus’ poem that’s historically affiliated with American immigration and the Statue of Liberty.

“Not really a case you would expect a Republican to be making,” Carlson said, referencing Graham’s use of the poem. “Why aren’t there more articulate Republican members of Congress making the case that you just made?”

“Well, I wish there were, actually,” Sessions said, before claiming the U.S. should be more like Canada in its immigration policies. “We should evaluate them and make sure they are going to be lawful. They are not threats to us. They have the education and skills level to prosper in America. That’s good for them and good for America.” 

Watch a clip of the interview below:

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Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) defended President Donald Trump’s derogatory comments about Haiti and African nations last week, telling MSNBC Tuesday that conditions in Haiti are “disgusting.”

“I probably wouldn’t use the term — the President’s term,” he said, referencing reports that Trump called African countries “shithole countries.” “I will say the conditions in Haiti are deplorable. It’s disgusting. Everywhere you look in Haiti, it’s sheet metal and garbage when I was there.”

Gaetz’ defense of the President comes as Republicans grapple to get their story straight on what Trump said during an Oval Office meeting on immigration reform last week. The Washington Post was first to report that Trump questioned why the U.S. needed more Haitian immigrants and referred to African countries as “shithole countries.” Trump has denied he used that terminology, but admitted he used “tough” language during the meeting, with the White House claiming he’s passionate about pushing for a merit-based immigration system.

During the interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes Tuesday, Hayes asked Gaetz whether the President’s criticism of conditions in other countries is theoretically antithetical to his merit-based approach to immigration reform.

If the idea of merit is the merit is of the person independent of the place they’re coming from, but if the President objects based on the condition of those countries that can’t connect back to merit, can it?” Hayes said.

“Well, I think the President is objecting as a consequence of those countries not contributing to the immigration process in America in a way that benefits our country principally,” Gaetz said. “The President indicated we’ll have an America-first immigration, not an agenda that looks at the needs of people in other countries rather than the needs of Americans.”  

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During an Oval Office appearance with the President of Kazakhstan Tuesday, President Donald Trump said he wants immigrants to come to the U.S. from “everywhere.”

Trump was responding to a shouted question from CNN’s Jim Acosta, who asked why Trump reportedly favors immigrants who come from European countries like Norway.

“I want them to come in from everywhere, everywhere,” Trump said.

The comment follows international outrage over Trump’s reported vulgar language during a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers last week, when he reportedly questioned why the U.S. needs more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” like those in Africa. Trump also reportedly asked why the U.S. couldn’t attract more immigrants from Norway.

Tuesday’s remark falls in stark contrast with not only the statements Trump made about African countries last week, but also about his rolling legacy as President. Within days of moving into the Oval Office, Trump signed an executive order banning people from seven predominately Muslim countries from traveling to the United States.

The move has been met with intense pushback from civil rights groups and blockage by several federal judges across the U.S.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that Democrats are exploiting reports of inflammatory comments that President Trump made last week to stall on getting “something accomplished” on DACA and immigration reform.

“I think (Democrats) are using it as an excuse to not help this President get something accomplished, which I think is a sad day for our country,” Sanders said when asked whether Democrats were using Trump’s insults — calling African countries “shitholes” — as leverage get their way on DACA.

Trump reportedly asked lawmakers in a bipartisan meeting on immigration reform Thursday why the U.S. needs more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” like those in Africa. Trump has denied he made those remarks, but he did admit to using “tough” language in his attempts to push for a merit-based immigration system.

Sanders also said it was “sad” that Democrats were willing to “throw away” negotiations on DACA, “which they say is a huge priority.”

The President brought them all here, had a very candid conversation, which you guys were all witness to, on getting that done and laid out,” she said. “Things that all of these individuals have voted for. It seems absolutely hypocritical that now all of a sudden they don’t want border security. They don’t want merit-based immigration system when they’ve supported it, voted for it and spoken about it many times in the past.”

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Former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney blasted President Donald Trump Monday for his reported “shithole” remarks about African countries.

In a tweet commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Romney said the “poverty of an aspiring immigrant’s” home country is just as “irrelevant as their race.”

“The sentiment attributed to POTUS is inconsistent w/ America’s history and antithetical to American values,” he said.

Romney’s remarks follow reports that Trump asked lawmakers in a bipartisan meeting discussing immigration reform Thursday why the U.S. needs more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” like those in Africa. Trump has denied he made those remarks, but did admit to using “tough” language in his attempts to push for a merit-based immigration system.

The former governor’s tweet comes on the heels of news that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is retiring and has encouraged Romney, who now lives in Utah, to run for his seat. Romney reportedly texted a friend over the weekend, confirming his bid.

He has not made an official statement on whether he plans to run, but his former spokesperson Kevin Madden told CNN Tuesday that if Romney is not publicly downplaying reports of his candidacy, he’s likely planning to run.

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The pastor of a historically black church in Maryland blasted the President for his denigrating comments about African countries while Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen Pence were reportedly in attendance, according to local media and The Associated Press.

Maurice Watson, the pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Largo, Maryland, said Sunday he felt “led by God” to denounce President Donald Trump’s “shithole” remarks about African countries.

“I stand today as your pastor to vehemently denounce and reject any such characterizations of the nations of Africa and our brothers and sisters in Haiti,” Watson said, according to a video posted on the church’s Facebook page.

Pastor Watson's Statement on the President's Remarks on Haiti and Africa

I stand today as your Pastor to vehemently denounce and reject such characterizations of the nations of Africa and our brothers and sisters in Haiti.

Posted by Metropolitan Baptist Church on Sunday, January 14, 2018

Last week, Trump reportedly asked lawmakers in a bipartisan meeting discussing immigration reform why the U.S. needs more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” like those in Africa, The Washington Post first reported and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who attended the meeting, later confirmed. Trump also said he would rather have more immigrants from Norway.

Trump has denied he made those remarks, but did admit to using “tough” language in his attempts to push for a merit-based immigration system. He later said Durbin “misrepresented” his remarks.

A local news outlet, WUSA-TV, reported that Pence appeared agitated and got red in the face during the sermon, but his office denied those reports to The Associated Press Monday.

H/t: The Huffington Post

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President Donald Trump’s comments about “shithole countries” have set off a global furor and put American and foreign diplomats in the hot seat.

State Department officials were reportedly scrambling Friday to give diplomats guidance on how to affirm the United States’ commitment to their host countries, CNN reported.

The Botswana government summoned its U.S. ambassador “to clarify whether Botswana is regarded as a “shithole” country,” The Washington Post reported.

And Haitian ambassador Paul Altidor told MSNBC that Haiti believes Trump was “either misinformed or miseducated about Haiti and its people.”

Both Altidor and the government of Botswana released statements condemning the comments and asking U.S. officials for a formal explanation of the remarks.

Nicholas Burns, a widely respected former top diplomat, tweeted:

Trump reportedly made the comments during a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers discussing immigration reform.

In addition, U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley announced his resignation on Thursday, hours before The New York Times and The Washington Post reported on Trump’s “shithole” remarks, according to reports from a local Panama newspaper. The career diplomat told the State Department that he no longer feels that he is able to serve under Trump, Reuters reported.

“As a junior foreign service officer, I signed an oath to serve faithfully the president and his administration in an apolitical fashion, even when I might not agree with certain policies,” Feeley, a former aide to Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, said in a resignation letter shared with Reuters. “My instructors made clear that if I believed I could not do that, I would be honor bound to resign. That time has come.”

Feeley will continue to serve in his Panama post until March 9, Reuters reported.

Other foreign officials like Hugo Martinez of El Salvador and representatives of the African National Congress are seeking an official response from U.S. authorities regarding Trump’s comments.

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A chorus of top civil rights leaders condemned President Donald Trump for his comments about “shithole countries” Friday, and called on Congress to use Trump’s outburst to pass a clean Dream Act “now.”

“I am condemning in the strongest terms the President’s outburst,” Vanita Gupta, who served as the Obama Justice Department’s top civil rights official and now heads the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told reporters during a press call Friday. “His words were racist, repugnant and reprehensible and they have no place in our political discourse.”

Gupta was joined by a slew of civil and immigrant rights leaders, who called on Congress to pass a fix for DACA and TPF recipients by the Jan. 19 deadline.

Trump reportedly made the vulgar comments during a bipartisan discussion on immigration reform at the White House Thursday. He has denied making the comments, but Sen. Dick Durbin confirmed that he did.

Jonathan Jayes-Green, the co-founder and director, Undocublack Network said Trump’s comments “reflect a deeply rotten and racist soul.”

Judith Browne Dianis of the Advancement Project called Trump’s policy priorities, as well as his remarks, demonstrative of “a racial purge that this president is calling for.”

The outcry from national civil rights organizations follows a short chorus of condemnations from Republicans and widespread fury from Democrats in Congress who have called Trump’s remarks “vile” and “divisive.”

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Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) confirmed Friday that President Donald Trump did refer to Haiti and African countries as “shithole countries” during a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers discussing immigration reform Thursday.

Trump had denied using the word “shithole.”

“He used these vile and vulgar comments, calling the nations they come from shitholes,” Durbin told reporters Friday morning. “The exact word used by the President. Not just once, but repeatedly.”

“He said things which were hate-filled, vile and racist,” Durbin continued. “I use those words advisably, I understand how powerful they are. … You’ve seen the comments in the press. I’ve not read one of them that’s inaccurate.”

“To no surprise, the President started tweeting this morning, denying that he used those words,” Durbin said. “It is not true. He said these hate-filled things and he said them repeatedly.”

Durbin said Trump not only called countries in Africa “shithole(s),” but also that he asked, “do we need more Haitians?” That was during a discussion of groups that have temporary protected status in the U.S. due to disasters or political upheaval in their home countries.

Durbin is the first member of Congress to publicly confirm that the President used the term “shithole.”

Trump had tweeted Friday morning denying he used that specific word.

In a statement Thursday evening, the White House did not challenge reports from The Washington Post and The New York Times about Trump’s language, but rather defended the President’s stance on striking merit-based immigration deal with lawmakers.

White House sources have also told reporters off the record that they think the President’s comments will please his base.

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Suggesting he may be open to diplomatic talks with North Korea, President Donald Trump told The Wall Street Journal Thursday that he “probably” has a “very good relationship” with Kim Jong-un, despite months of public feuds with the nation’s rogue leader.

“I have relationships with people. I think you people are surprised,” he told the WSJ in a wide-ranging interview from the Oval Office published Thursday. “You’ll see that a lot with me … and then all of a sudden, somebody’s my best friend. I could give you 20 examples. You could give me 30. I’m a very flexible person.”

The comments follow months of mounting tensions between Trump and Kim as the North Korean leader tests global patience with his development of a nuclear arsenal. Trump has called Kim a “maniac,” “short and fat” and “rocket man,” while Kim has taken to labeling Trump the “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”

Despite efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump has been noncommittal on whether he believes diplomatic discussions with North Korea will force Kim’s hand in ending the development of his nuclear program. In October, Tillerson said a line of communication had been opened between the U.S. and North Korea. Trump responded by undercutting his secretary of state, saying Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.”

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